For a review of “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,”
“Kingsman: The Secret Service” caught many by surprise when it was released in 2014. On the surface, it’s an updated, cheekier riff on Bond — the British gentleman spy gets an upgrade when a lower- class Cockney lad gets recruited into their ranks, utilizing his street smarts and brute force.
It was shockingly violent, soundtracked to classic pop hits and the one- two punch of director Matthew Vaughn’s dizzying camera work and star Taron Egerton’s crinkly- eyed charmpumme led audiences into thinking it was all “fun.”
However, the sequel, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” really shows the seams on this franchise. In upping the ante we can see that this whole affair is just a truly cynical, painfully retrograde pastiche of meaningless pop nostalgia wrapped around a nonsensical plot, sprinkled with a dusting of repulsive sexism. Fun.
In “Golden Circle,” Kingsman agent Eggsy ( Egerton) seemingly has it all together as a gentleman spy, cozied up with his Swedish princess girlfriend Tilde ( Hanna Alstrom), before it all falls apart at the hands of a kooky entrepreneur villain much like it did in the first film. This time, our disruptor of industry is Poppy Adams ( Julianne Moore, stooping far below her standard), an intrepid drug lord camped out in a retro neon ’ 50s paradise deep in the Cambodian jungle. She decides to hold the world hostage by infecting drug users with amysterious virus in order to push through legalization of all drugs.
Since the U. S. president ( Bruce Greenwood) decides to play chicken with Poppy, only the private security force of the Kingsmen, with an assist from the Kentuckybased Statesmen, can bring Poppy’s evil plot down. Like the Kingsmen, the Statemen are total stereotypes of their nation, with Agents Tequila ( Channing Tatum, criminally underused), Whiskey ( Pedro Pascal) and Champagne ( Jeff Bridges) sporting dude- ranch fresh cowboy duds and swinging lassos.
“Kingsman” is based on the comic books by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, while Vaughn and Jane Goldman wrote the screenplays for both “Secret Service” and “Golden Circle.” Yes, a female writer can have a hand in scripting a screenplay that dehumanizes women, who are merely helpers and sex objects here, subject to horrible degradation. Even Poppy, in her Stepford wife fantasy, lets men do the dirty work. One particularly egregious sequence takes the leering, invasive camera gaze to a whole new level, and just might feel like an actual violation for female- bodied audience members. To add insult to the affair, Halle Berry’s character, Ginger Ale, makes a supportive quip afterward.
Claiming fun fantasy and escapism doesn’t excuse the ugly behavior of “Kingsman.” Words matter. Images matter. When you take a step back from all the bombast, Vaughn and Goldman’s worldview as seen through the lens of “Kingsman” is so incredibly bleak. Their opinion of Americans is dismal: either aw- shucks cowboys or homophobic, hateful rednecks. The suave Brits are too cool to care about any death or carnage they leave in their wake, and therefore there are no meaningful stakes.
In this world, nothing matters. This film is so flippant, it espouses a particularly potent strain of candy- colored nihilism, where every nostalgic cultural symbol becomes lethal. Is Vaughn making a point about death by nostalgia? Nah, this movie isn’t smart enough. It’s just a gas- guzzling combustion engine fueled by the shallowest of pop references, strung together in an incredibly stupid plot, peppered with adolescent body humor. It’s pointless pablum. Pass.
“Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” a Twentieth Century Fox release, is rated R for sequences of strong violence, drug content, language throughout and some sexual material. Running time: 141 minutes.
“The LEGO Ninjago Movie”
If you’re of a certain age and childless, it’s entirely possible you haven’t the foggiest idea what a “Ninjago” — of the latest LEGO movie — might be. Apparently it is both a show and a toy, but that’s as far as I got into the Wikipedia article. With the wild success of both “The LEGO Movie” and “The LEGO Batman Movie,” released just earlier this year, it stands to reason that Warner Bros. would strike while the iron is hot and churn out more LEGO- themed movies, like “The LEGO Ninjago Movie,” which sadly proves that when it comes to the super fun LEGO movies, there can be diminishing returns.
The genius of “The LEGO Movie” and “The LEGO Batman Movie” lies in the extremely high joke density of those films, which are thick with verbal and visual gags, nearly overwhelming in their detailed specificity to both the LEGO character style, and the incredibly rich worlds and mythology created around these little plastic toys. “Ninjago,” directed by Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan, and credited to no less than nine screenwriters ( including Fisher and Logan) doesn’t quite maintain that level of mania that make both “Movie” and “Batman” deliriously fun.
Signaled by the vintage WB logo at the beginning, and a live- action opening featuring Jackie Chan as a kindly shop owner telling the story of Lloyd and Ninjago to a young patron, “The LEGO Ninjago Movie” is inspired by 1970s kung fu and monster movies. The young hero, Lloyd ( Dave Franco), is a forlorn teenager in the seaside city of Ninjago, leading a secret double life as both the much maligned son of evil villain Garmadon ( Justin Theroux) and the Green Ninja of the ninja crew that saves the city from Garmadon’s destruction. Think of the ninja crew like the Power Rangers: these teens have different colors, different powers, and ride around in giant animal- shaped robots fighting Garmadon and his army.
Lloyd’s just a sensitive kid with daddy issues, and therefore, he overcompensates a bit. During a battle, he accidentally unleashes a terrifying monster— a furry feline creature named Meow- thra ( a live housecat, batting Ninjago around like a ball of yarn). With his posse of ninja buddies, under the guidance of their sensei, Mr. Liu ( Chan), Lloyd sets out on an adventure to retrieve a super special weapon to stop Meowthra. There’s just one wrinkle — his overbearing blowhard of an evil dad joins them on the trip.
“LEGO Ninjago” maintains the silly and irreverent tone of the prior films, and the other ninjas are voiced with great personality by comic stars Kumail Nanjiani, Abbi Jacobson, Zach Woods, Fred Armisen, and Michael Peña.
What doesn’t quite work is the emotional story between Lloyd and Garmadon as they get to know and accept each other, which is the heart of this tale. If the story of your film requires a lot of emotional expression, it might not work best with characters that have flat round plastic heads and painted on features.
Some aspects of the film are quite entertaining. Garmadon is a great character, especially as voiced by Theroux ( his pronunciation of Lloyd as “Luh- Loyd” doesn’t get old). It’s a light, serviceable romp around the LEGOs, but doesn’t come close to the high- key antics of the first two films in the series.
“The LEGO Ninjago Movie,” a WarnerBros. release, is rated PG for some mild action and rude humor. Running time: 101 minutes.
Jackie Chan lends his voice to Master Wu in the new Warner Bros. release “The LEGO Ninjago Movie.”